Mosaic memories

A Holocaust survivor preserves her past in a Netanya penthouse.

mosaic real estate 88 (photo credit: )
mosaic real estate 88
(photo credit: )
I sometimes feel we need people like Chel to remind us how close the Holocaust really is. Still youthful-looking and pretty, Chel was born in Holland in 1940 and survived the war hidden with gentiles. She was one of several hundred Jewish children rescued from the 11,000 who had been herded into an Amsterdam theater by the Nazis for deportation and murder. "I was with 16 different families between the ages of three and five," she says. Today she lives in this beautiful penthouse in Netanya and has used her extraordinary artistic talents to create a memorial for all the family she never knew. The floor of the apartment has been decorated with several mosaics she made herself. The one that has particular meaning for her is between the dining and living rooms, and depicts a tree with all the blossoms representing family members who did not survive. "I wanted to show that their lives were not in vain, that they sprang roots - strong roots - and flowers. I and my sister and brother all have children and grandchildren, so although I never knew my grandparents, they have future generations to carry on their legacy." Not surprisingly, she is a fervent Zionist, and the blue and white colors which dominate her living space may be a reflection of that. She moved into the penthouse a little over a year ago and brought much of the furniture with her. The blue carpets and white and cream seating were in a previous home, and the curtains were chosen to blend in. "I had nightmares about the shade of blue when I ordered the pelmets," she recalls. "I felt I needed to break up the white so it would not look too clinical and I thought that blue would blend with the sea in the background. It turned out just right." A navy-blue leather recliner also alleviates the effect of too much white in the sitting area. At the entrance another of Chel's mosaics greets the visitor. It's designed as a welcoming motif with two birds drinking from the same water. I wondered how she felt about investing so much artistic inspiration and hard work in a piece which could not be moved. "I was rather hoping that this would be my last address," she says with a smile. "I've done many mosaics and have been doing them for years but I'd never made a piece for the floor. It was a challenge and a huge job - I had to make it on a table in pieces and it was put down by a professional who usually works in museums." Other mosaics hang on the walls and Chel has used famous paintings - Chagall and Agam amongst others - as inspiration for her own handwork. The bathroom has a reclining nude mosaic above the bath, decorated with ceramic roses. Between the lounge and the bedrooms a small game room has been set aside for her regular bridge game. A painting of Safed, in three panels, by Israeli artist Ziva Kainer hangs on the wall. The master bedroom is exceptionally pretty with a bright, flowery chintz alternating with a basic green. The pelmets and cushions are all in the cheerful chintz and she even used a piece on one side of the bedside table to cover some damaged wood. From this room she can step out onto a shaded balcony. The main balcony off the lounge is a favorite spot for entertaining. "The weather up here is so much nicer than down on the ground," she says. "Coming from Western Europe one wants to be outside a lot and up here it's warm but breezy." The balcony roof can easily be converted into a succa, and the attractive cherry mosaic table is also her handwork. Inside the apartment there is much more evidence of her artistic abilities. Only nine years ago she took up paper cuts as being something she could do while traveling and became good enough to hold an exhibition in Denmark. At the entrance, next to an old pirate's chest, she has reconstructed a broken pot found in Caesarea - and added a mosaic for good measure. The maple wood kitchen, separated from the lounge by a low wall, has her Dutch corner, with reproductions of the canal buildings of Amsterdam. Against this wall is one of her favorite possessions - a specially built glass dollhouse filled with room settings in miniature. "It's probably because of my lost childhood," she says reminiscently. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail [email protected].